Is It Winter? That Depends. Really?

When working with groups, I challenge them to think of anything that is fixed, unchanging, always the same. While people pop up with some possibilities–my sister is my sister, that building is there, time is time–we quickly discover that all of these understandings have shifted dramatically in recent years. Family relations can be defined biologically and socially. The building used to be materials, which were minerals before, and will be materials then minerals again in the distant future. Time was constant and universal, until Einstein’s theory of relativity. Everything changes and depends on other things. While this is leading-edge thinking in organizational strategy, it is a very old teaching.

I just found out another one this week. Is it winter? Surely that is fixed. Winter is winter. Isn’t it? Nope. It turns out that there are different definitions of the seasons and when they start. Two basic definitions of seasons are meteorological and astronomical.

Meterological seasons are based on average temperatures. Winter is the coldest average temperature for three months. Since there is a lag in the cooling down or heating up of the lithosphere and hydrosphere, winter officially starts, in the USA, on December 21. This is the winter solstice. In this way of thinking, the solstices and equinoxes mark the beginning of the season. In other countries, winter starts officially on December 1. And, that is for the northern hemisphere, with the southern hemisphere being in summer at that time.

Astronomical seasons are based on the tilt of the axis of the Earth. Winter is when the nights are shortest, with the winter solstice marking the middle of the season.

Well, at least we humans agree that there are four seasons. Right? Nope. In some cultures, there are two seasons, others have three, six, or twenty-four seasons in a year. Even though I thought I was thinking about everything as being dynamic and systemically interconnected, I had never even questioned whether I knew when winter started. Well, it depends on how you define it, the culture you come from, and the distance you live from the equator. Once again, life is even more interesting than I had thought.

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